Moving out is a complicated experience. You’re all excited because you’re going to be living on your own for the first time, and also terrified because… well, you’re going to be living on your own for the first time. You’re probably looking at every “what you need before you start college” and “what you need for your first apartment/dorm” list you can find. It’s all kind of overwhelming, and so much of the advice is conflicting, not to mention super expensive. How are you supposed to stay frugal and stick to your budget when you have a list with a million things on it that are supposedly the bare minimum of what you need?
Fortunately, it’s a lot less complicated than most people make it sound. Living on your own for the first time definitely isn’t easy, but you also don’t need to spend thousands to be able to do it. These are the things that helped me out most when I was first moving out, and will hopefully help you stick to your budget and build a healthier relationship with money and the stuff you have around you.
First, make a list of what you need.
While using other lists as guidelines can help, you should really be focusing on what you personally need. If you plan to cook while you’re going to school and are going to have a access to a kitchen, you’ll probably need more kitchen supplies than if you’re going to be living in the dorms and using a campus meal plan. If you’re a light sleeper and you’re going to be living with roommates, you want to make sure you’re bringing earplugs and an eye mask. If you have food allergies, bring a stash of your favorite foods.
There are some things you won’t know you need until you get to school and settle into your new life. There will also be some things that you thought you would need that you never end up using. It takes a while to figure out exactly what you need, and your needs will probably change over time. Don’t go hog wild and buy a ton of stuff right when you move out. Get the necessities and pick up things here and there as you need them. This will give you the time to find the best price and make solid purchasing decisions. Money is always tight in college, and you want to get the most bang for your buck. The best way to save your money is not to buy stuff you don’t need.
Second, bring stuff from home or borrow stuff from family and friends.
The cheapest way to furnish your new living space is to make sure you’re not spending anything on the really big-ticket items if you can hack it. If you’re going to school relatively close to home, this is a little easier. If you’re going to be in a stable living situation where you won’t have to move in and out every few months, this is even more ideal. You can bring some of your furniture from home and set it up in your new place–things like your mattress, bookcases, and other big stuff that’s way too expensive to repurchase on a regular basis. When I moved out, my roommate’s aunt was kind enough to loan us her couch. That was a few hundred dollars saved right there.
And it doesn’t just have to be big stuff. If you’re going to have kitchen access and aren’t going to be relying on a campus meal plan, having your own pots, pans, baking dishes, and cooking utensils is vital. You can get super cheap kitchenware at the thrift store (more on that resource later!), but if your budget is super tight, family and friends will often have extra stuff they can give you. I ended up buying a lot of my kitchen stuff new for super cheap at places like Walmart and the Dollar Tree, but I honestly wish I would’ve asked around more and gotten higher-quality stuff for free rather than cheap stuff I’ve ended up having to replace over the years.
Next, check out Freecycle, Craigslist, and Nextdoor.
If you don’t have family who can spare extra furniture or kitchenware, or you’re going to be living too far from home for it to be practical for you to bring any of that with you, start looking at Freecycle and the free section of Craigslist in the area you’re going to be moving to. If you’re moving to a more rural area, the pickings will be pretty slim, but the more urban and populated an area you’re moving to, the more likely it will be that you’ll find tons of great stuff. With both of these, you have to keep an eye on them and check them regularly for the stuff you want. There’s a lot of luck involved, and you have to move fast to get the good stuff, but it’s totally worth it to take a few minutes every day to check and see if someone is giving away something you need.
Nextdoor is a little different in that it’s more community-focused, but people post about free stuff they’re giving away all the time. Join Nextdoor in the area you’re planning on moving to and start poking around to see what your neighbors are getting rid of.
One important thing to keep in mind with all of these: stay safe! Have a friend with you whenever you meet someone to get new stuff, and always make sure someone knows where you’re going. Getting free stuff is only worth it when you’re safe!
Once you’ve exhausted the free resources, it’s time to start thrifting.
Thrift stores are going to be your best friend during this time. Places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army tend to have household goods as well as clothes. There are also likely lots of other small thrift stores and charity shops near you. You can find tons of household basics for super cheap, from dishes and frying pans to sheets and home decor. Everything is usually in decent condition.
I’ve actually had way better luck finding interesting, high-quality items at small-town thrift stores rather than here San Francisco, but your mileage may vary. This is a good tool for finding charity-driven thrift stores, so you can feel good about your money going to a good cause.
Timing is also key. Ask about each store’s sales cycles. Half-price items are often marked with colored tags or stickers that are only valid on certain days. Visiting on certain days of the week can make a difference, too. The weekends tend to be a lot busier, and if you go late on a Sunday, you’ll probably find that the whole store has been picked over. Go in the middle of the day on Wednesday, though, and you’ll probably have a whole lot more luck.
Finally, get good at finding good deals.
I wrote more about how to save money in general here, but when it comes to moving out, the most important thing is to get amazing at finding deals. Start learning where the clearance section is in every store. Whether you’re buying furniture, clothes, food–whatever it is, there is probably a clearance section, and it is usually worth picking through.
Use store apps, but don’t get sucked into the marketing! Stuff like Target’s app, grocery store apps, and Ibotta can make it a little cheaper to buy things, but don’t get blinded by all the flashy sales and deals. Companies put things on sale because they know it will make them money. Don’t buy more than what you need just because it seemed like a deal. Always comparison shop, and never assume that just because something is on sale that that’s the best price. Prices on furniture and clothes always drop eventually, and it’s worth waiting.
Lastly, take a deep breath.
It can be scary trying to get everything together as you prepare to move out, but I promise you that you’ll get the hang of it. In many ways, this is a practice round for your post-graduation life. If you make some mistakes along the way, it’s not the end of the world. The most important thing is making sure that you always have the tools to get back on track.
Make the best use of the resources you have available to you, and always be sure to check in and make sure you’re only purchasing things you actually want or need, not what someone else said you should want or need. The more you listen to that voice inside you that always asks things like, “Do I really need this? Would I really use/wear/enjoy this? Do I already have something like it?” the happier your bank account is going to be.
Have questions about moving out or how to be successful in college? Do you have tips to share about living on your own? Let me know in the comments!